Negative SEO: A real threat?

Author: Mike Hagley 5/7/2012

Google SEO Criminal


Since Google Penguin has highlighted the fact that websites with unnatural links profiles will be penalised quite easily, some dodgy folks are now using this for their own gain. Blackhat SEOs are now offering negative SEO services that promise they will “destroy your competitors” and “blast your competitors out of the SERPs”.

After reading a nice recap of the challenges we face in SEO in 2012, I stumbled upon a negative SEO case study that proves negative SEO to be a viable tactic to damage your competitors’ website rankings on Google.

Negative SEO Case Study

A couple of members of TrafficPlanet carried out some negative SEO tests on two different websites. The first website chosen was clearly for personal reasons – an attack against self-proclaimed industry guru Dan Thies, of The second site chosen was, for obvious reasons.

The tests

  • seofaststart: An estimated “30,000 blog network links built in 3 days” on keywords “seo”, “seo service” and “seo book”; and 1 million scrapebox blast on “Dan Thies”
    • Note: TrafficPlanet members claim they did not carry out the blog links. It seems Dan Thies was the target of a negative SEO attack from two different groups at the same time
  • 1 million scrapebox blast on “destroy your competitors”

The results: seofaststart

1. The brand keyword “Dan Thies” didn’t move from the #1 spot. This could be for a number of reasons…

  • The scrapbox blast wasn’t strong enough
  • The link building campaign wasn’t carried out for long enough to do any real damage
  • It’s a brand keyword and unlikely to be hurt by Pengiun

2. Keywords “seo” and “seo service” dropped out of sight and did not appear in the top 1000 results (originally ranked #11 and #34 respectively)

3. Keyword “seo book” declined to rank #34 (originally ranked #3).

The results:

1. The keyword “negative seo” declined from #2 to #6 on Google.

2. The keyword “destroy your competitors” dropped from #1 to #13

Things to note here: “destroy your competitors” declined heavily compared to “negative seo” most likely because this was the exact keyword used in the test, whereas the small decline for “negative seo” was merely a side effect from the test.  This shows that spam link building will not only affect the exact match keyword used in anchor text, but it will affect complimentary keyword rankings also.

These results clearly show that negative SEO is a real threat, and it is possible.  But what is the likelihood of your competitors being so evil?  We hope it’s very slim.

Detecting & combating negative SEO

1. Ensure you use Webmaster Tools (Bing has one too).

Google has been known to contact webmasters via messages through Webmaster Tools, such as the “unnatural links” messages which many sites hit by Penguin found in their inbox.

2. Keep an eye on your link profile

Using backlink tools such as Open Site Explorer, AHREFS and Majestic SEO, you are able to monitor your link profile. If you see any unexpected, sudden increases in link volume, I suggest carrying out a deeper analysis on the data to find out where these links are coming from.

3. Monitor your web analytics and keyword rankings

If someone wants to hurt you, they will need to target your most popular, high volume keywords to do the most damage to your SEO traffic. If you’ve been affected, you should notice a substantial decline in SEO traffic. And of course, you should notice a drop in rankings too.

If you haven’t played with SEOMoz Pro, I highly recommend it for SEO monitoring, tools and advice – and this will also give you access to Open Site Explorer, which can be used to manage your link profile.

4. Get in touch with Google slash Matt Cutts

While Penguin is an algorithmic-based change and a reconsideration request is futile, there is a Penguin feedback form for those who feel have been wronged by the Penguin algorithm.

Otherwise Matt Cutts might be able to help. Here’s a spoof video of him, just for kicks.

5. Avoiding negative SEO

Before you get hit though, the sure-fire way to avoid negative SEO is to have a solid external link profile in place. If you’re already using any spam or paid linking techniques, you will be more susceptible to a negative SEO attack.

SEOMoz on Negative SEO

Here’s Rand with an excellent in depth explanation of negative SEO. It’s long, but worth it. Whiteboard Friday: Negative SEO.


Google aims to make “search more secure” with SSL Search

Author:  Mike Hagley

In an announcement that has sent the SEO industry into a spin this week, Google has said that it is making a vital change to its search engine which will be rolled out over the next few weeks.  Users logged into Google services (+1, Gmail, YouTube, AdWords, Analytics etc) who conduct a search on, will soon be using a secure (SSL) version of the popular search engine.  Google says it is aiming to improve the privacy of its signed-in users, yet it has industry professionals wondering if there are more sinister motives for the change.

Ultimately, this change means web analysts, webmasters and SEOs alike, will be unable to view the search queries used on the new secure version of (, for those users who click on an organic search listing.  The catch is that customers of their paid search product, AdWords, will still be able to view search query data within Google Analytics (and similar applications), for those visitors who clicked on a Google ad.

Google has estimated that this change will only affect a single-digit percentage of all queries on, and at this stage SSL Search will not affect queries on Google Australia.

Read the official Google blogs:

Is Place Search Costing Google Revenue?

Author: Mike Hagley

Over the past week if you’ve carried out a search for a local business or service you may have noticed some changes.  It’s called Place Search, and it’s an interesting move by Google – interesting for a number of reasons.

Google Place Search Screenshot 1

Place Search example: new map preview location

The map preview uses advertising space

Previously, Google would show ‘Local business results’ (and map) within the organic search results.  Now, with Place Search, Google has moved the map preview to the right hand side of the page, chewing up a massive piece of advertising real estate.  The map even follows you as you scroll down the page, covering the ads, showing AdWords advertisers even less respect:

Google Place Search Screenshot 2

Google Place Search example: scrolling map feature

Place page results combined with organic results

As well as a new location for the map preview, Google has added a number of new formats for serving Places listings.  One particular design combines a business’ Place page result with its organic result (along with an image) almost doubling the size of a regular organic result.

Why implement Place Search if it could lead to a reduction in AdWords revenue?

Possibly the answer lies in the rise in the usage of mobile devices for both web searching and social networking applications like Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook’s newest add-on, Places.  Earlier this year, Google reported a 500% increase in mobile search from 2008 until EOY 2009, and an alarming 50M Google Maps for Mobile users.

If we look at a mobile search result, the first two listings are advertising, followed immediately by the Place page results (image 1 below).  Notice that the Place page results are positioned above the organic results.  Conducting this same search on a PC has different results, and it seems that Google are giving a higher weighting to Place results on mobiles than on PC based queries.

Mobile Place Search Screenshot

Mobile Place Search example

OK, but how will Google make up for the lost AdWords revenue you ask?  The next innovation in Google advertising…

Boost Ads

Searchengineland explains Google Boost Ads as ‘automated AdWords for small business’.  Boost Ads are a paid search ad for your Place Page, and it’s currently being testing in a select few cities in the USA.  Businesses will be able to set a monthly budget and Google will automatically select which keywords for which your ad is shown.  Boost Ads will be shown alongside AdWords ads, and are clearly targeted to the small business that isn’t currently advertising on Google.

Boost Ad content

Example of a Boost Ad

So while Google may be losing advertising revenue with Place Search in the interim, I believe it’s a smart move to promote Google Places to small businesses, making it very easy for them to sign up for Boost Ads once available in all locations.

Educating Your Clients about PageRank… Wait, what’s PageRank?

Mike Hagley | September 8, 2010

As agents and consultants it’s up to us to educate our clients about the digital world, but all too often I hear about clients who have “done their research” on SEO and all too often they stumble across an article which suggests that PageRank is the be all and end all of SEO. It’s not. I believe too many site owners don’t understand enough about PageRank and get caught up in its hype. Let’s expel a few PageRank myths before we answer FAQs & explain what it actually is, what it means to you, and what you should be focusing on instead.

PageRank is not a direct measure of your rankings on Google
It is true that pages with higher PageRank are, generally speaking, more likely to gain higher rankings, but PageRank is only one of hundreds of factors which Google takes into consideration when ranking your website for a specific search query.  Google states:

“We use more than 200 signals, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, to examine the entire link structure of the web and determine which pages are most important. We then conduct hypertext-matching analysis to determine which pages are relevant to the specific search being conducted.”

Let me translate that for you:  “PageRank is considered when ranking your site but keyword usage is crucial in determining the final rankings.”

Toolbar PageRank is updated sporadically
If you’re busy analysing the PageRank of your site, chances are it’s not even up to date, as the PageRank found in your Google Toolbar is only updated a few times a year, if that.  You may also realise that any new pages you add to your site won’t have a PageRank assigned to them until the next update.  According to a few sources, the last update was in April 2010, which suggests we’re probably close to another update.

Q: How does PageRank actually work?
Like any Google algorithm, PageRank is a well kept mathematical secret.  What we do know is that PageRank is an algorithm based on the “link structure of the web”. Basically, PageRank flows between websites via the links that connect them (PageRank also flows between pages on your own site via internal links). Google goes on to say

“PageRank also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value.”

… which gives us the impression that links from higher PageRank sites are worth more (in terms of PageRank value) to the site receiving the link.
Volume, value and relevance are the three factors which I consider to be most important with regard to external links, but I’ll leave that for a specific link building discussion another day.

Q: What does PageRank mean to me?
PageRank should be perceived as an approximate measure of the importance of your site, and it should only be used as a guide to your SEO efforts.  PageRank is certainly not something to lose sleep over, and in fact, I don’t even consider PageRank when analysing my clients’ sites and their analytics.

Q: What should I be focusing on with regard to my SEO campaign?
If you are interested in SEO and are concerned about PageRank, I would instead shift your focus to more pertinent SEO items such as keywords, internal linking (site structure) and external link building campaigns.  All of which I will focus on in separate posts over the coming weeks.

I started writing this post as a follow up to a question posted on Ask Kalena (answered by Peter Newsome).  While I agree with Peter’s answer, I felt it was necessary to explain a little more about how PageRank works.

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